WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2002
Mr Bruce George, in the Chair
Memorandum submitted by MoD
Examination of Witnesses
RT HON GEOFFREY HOON, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Defence, MR BRIAN HAWTIN CB, Director General, International Security Policy, Ministry of Defence, and MR WILLIAM EHRMAN CMG, Director, International Security Policy, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, examined.
(Mr Hoon) Thank you, Chairman, and could I congratulate the Committee on choosing this, arguably the nicest, day of the year on which to spend the morning in the surroundings of the House of Commons.
Mr Knight: It needed to be rearranged for England to lose the football!
(Mr Hoon) I have never doubted your commitment to the pursuit of the truth, but I am grateful to the Committee for the opportunity of setting out the Government's thinking on the future of NATO as we approach the Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government in Prague on the 21st and the 22nd November. Expectations of Prague are high. Prague can meet those expectations only if Allies face up to the need not only for an enlargement, but also for what we would describe as a transformation of the Alliance. It is right that you should ask what do I mean by 'transformation'. I do not mean NATO suddenly becoming the world's policeman, but I do mean NATO becoming more effective in facing new challenges, building on the Strategic Concept, NATO having the capabilities it needs to face new threats, NATO enlarging to consolidate the security gains of the past decade, and NATO adapting the structures and processes to keep pace with the strategic setting. We certainly need a new Capabilities Initiative at Prague to give us the flexible, deployable, sustainable armed forces we have long wanted. The fight against terrorism underlines this need. Unless the Europeans do more, spend more and spend better, then there is a clear danger that the transatlantic link will weaken. We also need to look at NATO's command structures, which need improving to meet the present requirement. On enlargement, I want to emphasise the United Kingdom's strong support for a robust round at Prague. I also want to stress the need to go into this with our eyes open - to ensure a bigger NATO that can still be effective, and to help new members bring something worthwhile to the table. The meetings of NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers this spring have placed us, I believe, in a good position to take the right decisions at Prague. This relates in turn to adaptation. NATO's central bureaucracy has not yet faced up to the challenges of the 21st Century, and Lord Robertson is trying his hardest to make sure it does. The United Kingdom is right behind him in this effort. Finally, some commentators have asked whether NATO still has a role. To my mind, that is the wrong question. People in the Balkans would not be asking that question, people in NATO's partner countries, including those actively seeking to join the Alliance, would not be asking it, and people in NATO's armed forces, who know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, would not be asking it. The issue is not whether NATO has a role, but how it can best fulfil its role. The five tasks set out in the Strategic Concept will, with some shifting of emphasis, be as valid for Prague as they were for Washington. The real issue is how NATO can best meet these tasks.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I too have made the same journey as you, perhaps in a slightly different order, but I have visited all of the aspirant nations and have found an absolute determination to reach NATO standards, but I do want to emphasise that I believe that it is too soon as yet to be saying who might be invited. It is a matter for Prague and it is a matter for discussion amongst Allies, but we are following closely the efforts that individual nations are taking to reform their armed forces and defence structures, and we obviously are encouraging the Membership Action Plan process. The one point I have consistently made when I visited aspirant nations is that the issuing of the invitation is not the conclusion of the process; we need to ensure that countries work through the Prague Summit, recognising that this is a continuing effort to ensure that they have both internal reform to be able to provide the right kinds of forces for NATO, but also that they can make a real contribution to collective defence, so there is an internal aspect for each of the countries as well as producing a force contribution that can be useful in support of Article 5 and useful, therefore, in support of NATO operations.
(Mr Hoon) The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of enlargement and a strong supporter of a robust round of enlargement at Prague, and we see real benefits not only in geo-strategic terms of having new members of NATO at this stage, but we also see capability benefits which can flow from a substantial enlargement.
(Mr Hoon) I believe it is very important that the same standards are applied to each of the aspirant nations in terms of their being able to make an effective military contribution to the Alliance and that is why I emphasised a moment ago the importance of the Membership Action Plan. It is ensuring that countries reform their military and their military contribution to preserve the effectiveness of NATO as a military alliance which is, after all, its unique quality as an international organisation. We have any number of very effective international organisations where we can exchange political views and political ideas, and this is the one organisation where its raison d'être is its effective military operation.
(Mr Hoon) I have been going around telling them precisely what I have been telling you this morning. I have not put it in any different terms. We want to see a robust round of enlargement, we want to see new Member States in NATO some time after Prague, but we equally want to see NATO preserved as an effective military alliance and those countries making an effective military contribution. I have not actually had any hesitation among the countries that I have visited in agreeing with those sentiments. They themselves recognise that this is an important opportunity for them to engage in the reform process and that is why, after all, they have strongly supported the MAP process because they themselves want to be able to make an effective contribution. It is also a very good opportunity internally for engaging in some quite difficult issues of defence reform.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I too have had the opportunity of meeting them, and I am grateful for your comments and I will make sure that they are passed back. Certainly I think they have made an outstanding contribution, always reflected in the comments I have received from host governments who have very much appreciated the expertise and sheer experience that has been brought to bear. The only challenge for the Secretary of State for Defence is to persuade those people, who themselves have been having a very, very stimulating and enjoyable time, to come back and work in the Ministry of Defence.
(Mr Hoon) By and large, yes. We have certainly made it clear that if host countries believe that this has been a useful contribution to the Membership Action Plan, the process of defence reform, then we will be delighted to continue with it, either with the particular individuals in question if they wish to continue and that is consistent with their own personal and career plans, or equally by replacing them where appropriate, but I do not think it is right to generalise across the board. It will depend on both the individual's position and on the particular country in question, but, in principle, we certainly want to continue to offer what assistance the host country requires.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I was in Bulgaria and Romania last week and I have recently had meetings with both of their Defence Ministers both there and obviously here, and all I would invite you to do is to check the newspapers the day after my visit to each of those countries.
(Mr Hoon) I think you will find they deal with your problem.
Chairman: I do not think any newspaper can deal with it!
(Mr Hoon) I think that the research resources available to you ought to be able to cover looking at the Internet for access to that information.
(Mr Hoon) I am always delighted!
(Mr Hoon) Well, you are absolutely right to highlight that concern. It is an issue and that is why, as I mentioned earlier, on these visits that I have been making, I have emphasised that this is a process and it is not a process which ends at Prague. By and large, that has been accepted because I think the other side to it is to recognise, as I have just said in answer to a question from the Chairman, that the opportunity to engage in serious defence reform is one that is strongly supported certainly in Defence Ministries because it gives them a lever, it gives them a strong argument to press both with their colleagues in government and obviously with the public in the country in question. They want to reform, they want to have armed forces which are useful and they need obviously the resources to support that process, and this is a means of achieving that. I was talking to a Defence Minister the other day who has a requirement in their constitutional arrangements at the present time that they should spend at least 2 per cent on defence and notwithstanding whatever economic difficulties affect other government departments, that is an absolute fixture of their arrangements, so that is good for him, but it is also good for the country and it is also good for these kinds of processes.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I would simply invite you, Chairman, and the other Members of the Committee just to be a little more patient for just a short, further time before those announcements are made.
(Mr Hoon) Again I made the point earlier that there are geo-strategic factors, but there are also capability issues and this process of reform needs to produce armed forces which are not only useful as far as the countries themselves are concerned, but also can make a particular contribution to international operations, as Bulgaria has done in Afghanistan, for example. As we may get on to in due course, I think the issue of specialisation, of developing particular capabilities that are in short supply, and we have discussed this on previous occasions, we all know there are areas of expertise that our Allies need to develop, well, this is part of the solution to that problem, it seems to me, and encouraging, as I have done, countries to look at the capability shortfalls and find ways in which they can help to fill them. Actually my view, particularly of the smaller countries where historically they have perhaps sought to simply emulate the capabilities that are available to larger countries, it can actually give them a unique contribution to Alliance operations by developing niche capabilities that other countries simply cannot supply at the time. Therefore, when, as we do, we look around for contributions to international deployments, a smaller country might well actually get itself a seat at the table and participation in that operation in a way which historically it could never have contemplated, and when I talk to some of the aspirant nations, that has been a very attractive prospect for them.
(Mr Hoon) I was just checking with Brian Hawtin whether that had ever happened in the past, whether there had been a situation where every single nation had deployed its forces in a field operation and we are struggling to think of one where every single one - and obviously every country has made some sort of contribution, I think, to Afghanistan, but Iceland.
(Mr Hawtin) Yes, I do not think Iceland has in terms of forces.
(Mr Hoon) And Luxembourg may be another example. I am not ducking the question and I can see why you ask the question, but I think it is relevant to ask ourselves, "Has it worked in the past?" I do not think we are suddenly setting new standards for the future, and in the past we have always accepted that there will be coalitions that are willing formed from within NATO membership and that has worked perfectly satisfactorily in the past and I do not see any reason to doubt that it will not work perfectly satisfactorily in the future.
Chairman: We will probably come on to this later, Secretary of State.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I certainly think it is fair, and I made this point when talking to the aspirant nations, that we should not expect them to fulfil higher standards of capability improvements than we ask of ourselves, which is why we are so keen at Prague, as I have said already, to see a new Capabilities Initiative to continue to develop the capabilities that we lack and require as part of in effect the process of enlargement. So the point I have made, as I hope is consistent with the thrust of your question, is that this process of enlargement is not simply existing members looking outwards, but it is existing members looking outwards, but at the same time examining for themselves what further changes are necessary as NATO itself develops, so I do not think you can have a substantial enlargement without NATO itself facing up to the implications of that.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I certainly would not accept those descriptions of either of those countries and I think that is a serious misunderstanding of what has been taking place. Both of them supply extremely useful components on international deployments, when asked, so I think that is a very harsh assessment of what has taken place. Certainly what is important, and I think this is the same as the question that Jim has just asked in a different way, is that we recognise in a substantial enlargement the need for NATO itself to adapt, to change and to transform, as I said earlier, as part of that process. This is, as I say, not simply NATO standing still and setting a certain bar for new nations; it is about NATO itself recognising that we are dealing with a flexible situation that we have to react to and enlargement is simply part of that process, and we react by enlarging, but we also react by changing the way in which we operate.
(Mr Hoon) As I said in answer to the question from the Chairman earlier, there will be a consistent standard approach and the emphasis of the United Kingdom is very strongly in terms of fulfilling in terms of the Membership Action Plan and, therefore, engaging in real internal defence reform and making an effective contribution to the Alliance. Brian, do you have anything to add to that?
(Mr Hawtin) No, I think that is absolutely right. On the point about reform, I think the Membership Action Plan has evolved and obviously there has been increased focus in the light of experience on how one can best help, both through NATO and through bilateral assistance, the aspirants to reform, but we are continually learning from experience and factoring that into the Plan, the targets and the way the countries are being assisted in reforming and restructuring.
(Mr Hoon) Forgive me for interrupting you, but I hope that is not the full range of opinion hat you have obtained.
(Mr Hoon) I set out in opening the strong argument for NATO's continuing vitality and its continuing role in the world, and the best evidence for that are the number of countries queueing up to join and the number of countries prepared to take very difficult decisions as part of that process, so, as I say, I do hope that your researches on attitudes towards NATO have gone a little beyond that rather narrow and somewhat extreme perspective. Certainly NATO has to change
and I make that absolutely clear and it is part of our approach. It has to change not only in the light of the fact that the Soviet Union no longer exists and Russia is an ever-closer partner in a number of international operations and sits around the table in the NATO-Russia Council, so the world has changed and absolutely for the better, but there are still significant threats out there that we have to deal with. The world may well be a safer place as a result of the end of the Cold War, but it is certainly a less certain place. Some of the stability that the Cold War brought has ended and we have to deal with that, as we have to deal with, for example, conducting operations as far away as Afghanistan with all the logistical challenge that that involves. That is why we need to ensure that in the process of change, NATO has the right kind of capabilities to be able to conduct operations in that changing and increasingly uncertain world. That is why NATO continues to have a function and that is why, in answer to the Chairman's first question, I laid emphasis in particular on NATO's military capabilities because if NATO simply becomes another international forum, however fascinating it may be, for exchanging international views of a political kind, then we will have wasted a unique opportunity of ensuring that NATO itself remains a unique militarily-capable alliance.
(Mr Hoon) Well, you are asking me to repeat what I just said.
(Mr Hoon) I anticipate that NATO will be a larger organisation, it will have more countries in membership, but it will still remain, certainly if the United Kingdom has its way in terms of this reform process, an effective military alliance, setting standards, establishing inter-operability, ensuring that Member States can make the right kind of military contribution to whatever military activities are required in ten years' time, and it will also at the same time obviously have a powerful political role as a very large and successful military alliance. Would you like to come in, Brian?
(Mr Hawtin) Only on the military strengths. I think it continues to be unique in that sense. It is the only regional security organisation anywhere in the world which has the ability to deliver very considerable military puissance quickly, effectively over very considerable distances and to sustain that capability over considerable periods of time, and it has done that in a number of instances with the supporting politico-military crisis management mechanism. That is what makes it distinctive and different from any other organisation and it has the other attributes which the Secretary of State has described.
(Mr Ehrman) Could I just mention something that was in the Reykjavik Communiqué of the Foreign Ministers which fits in very much with what the Secretary of State is saying about the deployable distance. The Foreign Ministers agreed that NATO needed to have forces which could move quickly to wherever they are needed and sustain operations over distance and time, so that is, I think, an evolution to meet some of the new threats and at the same time NATO is of course working up at the moment its high-readiness deployable forces which can fulfil that role.
(Mr Ehrman) Well, the NATO Foreign Ministers were very clear that we need to be able to field forces wherever they are needed and, as the Secretary of State has said, Afghanistan, where many of our forces have been recently, is at a considerable distance.
(Mr Hoon) No, it is not. We are talking about, as with the operations in Afghanistan, being able to reach the source of threats which might challenge our own security and challenge the security of our Allies. That does not mean engaging in each and every operation that might arise anywhere in the world, but it certainly means being able to engage in operations that have as their ultimate aim dealing with threats to our own safety and security and that has not changed. That has always been the case as far as NATO is concerned.
(Mr Hawtin) Can I just add one point to that, and I think the Secretary of State alluded to it earlier. Even if NATO is not being deployed by NATO, and it is not in ISAF at the moment, so it is not a NATO flag over that, and it was not deployed in the Gulf as a NATO-led coalition, the key point is that the nations participating in both of those operations are doing so working to common NATO standards and to interoperability, training, exercises and procedures developed through NATO over very, very many years of hard work and effort and one cannot replicate that easily. You cannot produce it at the snap of one's fingers and that is NATO's key strength.
(Mr Hoon) No, no. I think there is an important concept though, if you will forgive me, which your questions are missing. The concept is that NATO is a defensive alliance. The whole point of Article 5 is to provide that security guarantee to each and every member, but if a threat arises somewhere else in the world and can be delivered in New York or Washington, then clearly we have to have the ability of dealing with that threat. It is not about a name change at all; it is about making sure that we have the right military capabilities to be able to deal with that threat to our safety and security and the safety and security of our Allies wherever it arises.
(Mr Hoon) On September 11th, there was a clear threat to the safety and security of the United States, a member of NATO, and that would arise wherever that threat was delivered against a NATO Member State. That is why I think, with the greatest respect, your questions are missing the point.
(Mr Hoon) I do not think you will find anywhere in the Treaty any reference to the Cold War threat or indeed to the Soviet Union. The whole point about Article 5 is that it is a security guarantee for the Member States and inevitably, as the world changes and moves on, those threats will change. Unfortunately your questions are not.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I think that is a different question and I think that is a relevant issue, but as for the moment I do not think we need to deal with it because that global expansion in that sense is not arising. The aspirant nations are clearly nations who could reasonably expect to be part of a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and are clearly European nations in that sense. There is nothing conceptually different about any of the existing aspirant nations. I accept that at some stage in the future we might have to deal with that more philosophical issue, but it does not arise for the moment.
(Mr Hoon) I am deliberately avoiding saying that because I do not think that for the moment there is a need to answer that. There might come a time, I recognise, when that becomes a relevant issue, but it is not the case today, and you will know from your studies of history of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries, Russia was regarded as a European nation where French was spoken at court.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I must say I always find it strange when I am invited in here as a witness because in my legal career that was the one thing I never was.
(Mr Hoon) There is no difference of view, but can I just emphasise that when I talk about a threat, that threat would have to be imminent and whatever action that we took would be entirely consistent with international law. This is the Alliance setting out, as it did at Reykjavik in the Summit Declaration, its need to be able to deal with threats to Alliance security and Alliance members wherever those threats arise, and that is something shared absolutely by the leaders of the Alliance because they said so at Reykjavik.
(Mr Hoon) I think I have already made the point that Afghanistan is not something that can be used sensibly as an example of some lack of US commitment to NATO because the same arose in relation to the Gulf War, so what has to happen in these circumstances is that coalitions of the willing are formed, the appropriate capabilities are made available, and specifically as far as Afghanistan is concerned, for example, we needed bases, we needed support from well beyond the geographical area covered by existing NATO members and, therefore, it made military sense to involve a wide range of countries who were not existing NATO members. Having just dealt with that, I think it is right that we should focus on the importance of continuing US involvement in the Alliance. I think it is absolutely vital that the United States remains engaged and the best way of ensuring that, in my view, is to ensure that the other members of the Alliance play their part in developing, funding appropriate military capability that allows them to work effectively alongside the United States, and it seems to me that there is both a political and a military dimension to that. The political dimension is for someone who has lived and worked in the United States, a regular visitor there, that there might come a time, I do not believe it is relevant today, but there might well come a time when the US taxpayers question why it is that they are making a disproportionate contribution to the Alliance and that that has an impact on the political leadership to the extent that they say, "We are no longer prepared and willing to do that if European nations or non-US nations are themselves not prepared to fund and make appropriate military capabilities available". It follows from that that the military justification is to ensure that we can play a part alongside the United States and that means having the appropriate capabilities available to support international operations, and it means ensuring that those capabilities are of the kind that allows us to operate together. As the United States continues to increase its defence spending, it is largely committing that spending on developing ever more sophisticated technology and that does present the non-US members of the Alliance with a challenge because we are unlikely to be able to match that level of spending by the United States, therefore, we have to develop those capabilities, particularly hi-tech capabilities collectively, at least in groups of nations who are prepared to work together and pool their resources to achieve that. Otherwise, I accept there is a risk that, as the United States develops ever more sophisticated technology, it will be ever more difficult for us to work alongside them and that is why the United Kingdom faces so much emphasis on improving capabilities; it has both a political and a real military aspect.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I actually think that that references fairly precisely British Government policy on all of those particulars, and I am delighted that he was endorsing not only the position that the British Government has taken, but broadly the position that European nations have taken. I doubt that any of our continental Allies would disagree with what you have just read out. We need to ensure that the pressure is maintained not only to establish the policy, but to deliver it.
(Mr Hoon) Where the force-generation requires NATO planning to be involved, then yes, that has been the assumption that has been made all along. There are obviously still one or two details to be resolved before absolute coherence is achieved between the EU and NATO, but you are well aware of what they are and we are working on them and we are close to, I hope, the successful resolution of those issues, but, broadly speaking, that is a policy that has been agreed, and bear in mind the only qualification I give is that it is not always anticipated that the scale of operation would require NATO participation, but on any operation of any scale, then clearly it would and that has been agreed.
(Mr Hoon) Well, General Ralston is a very, very impressive commentator on NATO issues and he is setting out very clearly a requirement that is strongly supported by all Allies. I think what is a more interesting question is why you find it so difficult.
Mr Howarth: Well, if I move then from General Ralston, there is another NATO official who has issued a stark warning that plans for Europe's $3.38 billion Galileo Satellite Navigation project have put Allied military forces in danger. Now, there is concern being expressed here that whilst there is a very good ground positioning satellite navigation system, GPS, which is American ----
Mr Jones: Can I object to this line of questions because this is not the agreed set of questions. Mr Howarth is using this Committee to score party-political points in his role as a front-bencher. We should stick to the questions we have agreed.
Chairman: The point here is that Members can ask any question as long as it is within the framework of the subject.
Mr Jones: But it is not agreed.
Chairman: That is ancillary.
Mr Jones: Well, it is not in the agreed questioning which we agreed before this meeting.
(Mr Hoon) Bear in mind that the Galileo system does not and will not have a defence aspect and that was written into the terms and conditions at the time of the EU agreement, so again whilst I am aware that there is speculation which has been entered into over Galileo, I would emphasise that it was absolutely a condition that this would not have defence implications.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I have set that out already and what NATO needs to do is to ensure that European nations and Canada are capable of making the kind of capability commitments that give NATO the war-fighting capabilities that it requires and it is all about capabilities, in our view, that we need to be able to develop the kind of capabilities that are necessary, but also that those capabilities should be interoperable with the United States and I set out for the Committee the dangers, as I see them, and we need to address those issues, as we are doing.
Mr Jones: Are we going to ask questions which have not been agreed to be asked?
Chairman: Well, as long as it is within the framework of the hearing, I am afraid people can ask any questions they like even though you might not agree with them.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I would not actually put it in quite that way in the sense that I think it is unfair to go from a statement which says we need to make changes in NATO to suggesting that there are existing shortcomings. What we are arguing for, and I hope this is consistent with what I have said to the Committee already, is that as we look for significant changes in membership, significant enlargement against the backcloth in particular of the events of September 11th and an increasing need to make sure that we have the right kinds of capabilities to be able to deploy forces quickly when we need to, then there are some improvements in the decision-making processes of NATO which are required, there is some streamlining, we need to have an organisation that can function effectively not in, how can I put it, not in 1992 terms, but in 2012 terms because the world is a rapidly changing place and, therefore, we need the structures, both the administrative structures, but also the defence command structures that are necessary to be able to have the right kind of organisation that reflects modern geo-political realities.
(Mr Hoon) There is no quad system. There is no system other than the system laid down in the Treaties.
(Mr Hoon) Well, there are regular contacts that I have with Allies, with partners on a very, very regular basis, but there is no quad system.
(Mr Hoon) I would be delighted to find any reference to any formal requirement that any four Member States meet on a regular basis.
(Mr Hoon) Well, I have certainly heard of it which is why I was able to deny that it exists.
(Mr Ehrman) Chairman, to answer your question, Allies meet in all sorts of formats informally, twos, threes, fours, fives, sixes, sevens, so there are all sorts of informal meetings all the time in NATO. As the Secretary of State has said, there is no system of the type which was referred to.
Chairman: We hear what you say.
(Mr Hoon) Structural reform is firmly on the agenda for Prague. It is on the agenda because defence ministers agreed that it should be put on the agenda.
(Mr Hoon) I think I just did, but I shall do so again. We are looking at administrative changes. Lord Robertson has circulated some personal proposals on the way in which he judges the internal mechanisms of NATO, particularly in Brussels. They need to be streamlined and improved and made more efficient and to have a more effective management structure. Those are some thoughtful insights into how he sees his position and how he sees the way in which the management of the alliance, in an organisational sense, needs to be improved. We strongly support that initiative. At the same time we also agreed at a recent defence ministers' meeting that we need to look at the command structure, and whether or not the right headquarters arrangements exist today for the kind of operations that we judge that NATO will need to be engaged in tomorrow. Therefore, we have instigated a review, which I believe will be agreed to at Prague.
(Mr Hoon) I am not sure that there is the neat distinction that you appear to draw. Clearly, it will remain essential that the most important decisions that NATO has to take - those obviously that concern the deployment of armed forces - will have to be taken by consensus. We could not contemplate a situation in which Britain's armed forces were put at risk without Britain's ministers agreeing to that. I cannot contemplate circumstances in which any country would be prepared to allow majority voting to determine the redeployment of its armed forces. That would be quite wrong. Therefore, such consensus issues have to be dealt with. Lower down the decision-making tree - and for that reasons I do not believe that there is quite the neat distinction that you describe - I believe that Lord Robertson is saying, particularly with a substantial enlargement in prospect, that there must be a greater recognition that a growing organisation needs to adjust its management and, therefore, its decision-making systems to allow for the fact that a large number of nations are participating. He has suggested that there would need to be a streamlining of committee structures. He has mentioned that there are something like 400 committees meeting at present. There may be more decisions delegated to the Secretary-General, but because those decisions had been agreed by consensus, in the first place, that that would be acceptable in terms of what we have just agreed between ourselves, and that there needs to be more effective management of the way in which decisions are taken. We are not talking about the key decisions. They would be done by consensus. We are talking about the way in which the organisation is managed.
(Mr Hoon) That is why I do not believe that you can make that neat distinction. We have had a situation in which decisions currently taken by consensus, but which are of relatively less importance, can be devolved, for example, by consensus, to the Secretary-General. I cannot give you answers today, because the work has not begun, but it is work that we want to support and get under way. The suspicion that Lord Robertson is setting out and his experience is that too many decisions are currently taken by consensus and too many minor decisions are taken by consensus, whereas we need a more streamlined and efficient organisation taking some of those essentially administrative decisions in a more efficient and effective way.
(Mr Hoon) This work has not started, never mind reached those specific conclusions. You are rightly concentrating on the big issues, if I can put it that way. Underlying what you are saying is that there is an understandable and appropriate concern about the problems of forces. I share that concern. I could not contemplate any circumstances in which Britain's forces would be deployed by majority. But at the other extreme, if there has to be consensus over the purchase of paperclips - there is far too much low-level decision making that involves large committees of every member state being involved - clearly there is a need to streamline some of those processes. Essentially, that is what Lord Robertson is describing.
(Mr Hoon) It is vital to emphasise that Russia is not a member of NATO. Russia has no responsibility for those internal processes. We have agreed a list of subjects that we shall discuss together in the 20, in the NATO Russia Council. We are hopeful that those conversations will go so well that the subjects can be extended, but that does not make Russia a member of NATO.
(Mr Hoon) Russia would have no interest, and nor would we have any interest in their participation in what are essentially housekeeping responsibilities.
(Mr Hoon) That is essentially why we argued very strongly for a review. I am delighted that that was agreed.
(Mr Hoon) I think that those are some of the issues that we shall have to consider. Certainly the command structures are in need of review. We have agreed that. I hope that the work can proceed expeditiously after Prague.
(Mr Hoon) It is too soon to say.
(Mr Hoon) Of course, I have a view. I cannot give you the answer. Your question tends to suggest that I have given you an answer before the review has started. All I am saying is that I accept the premise. I agree with you. Your premise is the premise that we have worked with. Even allowing for a relatively recent review - 10 years ago - the world has moved on so significantly and substantially that it is time to look again at some of those structures and the reason why we believe that it is time to reconsider them is that some of them have too many Cold War characteristics and are not sufficiently flexible and deployable for the modern reality. There is another issue with which we have to deal, which is resources. You cannot go on building new capabilities, developing new ways of deploying forces if, at the same time, you are still maintaining capabilities, and in this case headquarters, that are no longer serving the kind of purposes for which they were originally established. We need to look hard at whether we are receiving best value for the money that we are spending. There is a range of things, but I cannot give you the answer.
(Mr Hoon) Being the intelligent Member of Parliament that you are, I would have thought that you can see the direction in which we want to go from the parameters that I have set out. If you start with the criticism of having too many headquarters that are Cold War organised, that gives you one direction in which we want to go. If you start off with an assumption that says that we want more deployable headquarters and that there are too many static ones, that also gives you a flavour of the direction in which we want to go. If you say that we are concerned about spending on capabilities that are no longer relevant and that we would like to see spending on capabilities that are relevant, that also gives you an idea. I do not need to spell these out.
(Mr Hawtin) Without pre-empting the outcome of the review, there is not a lot that I can add to what the Secretary of State has said. NATO has reformed its staff and its structures since the end of the Cold War. We do not believe that that process has gone far enough. It needs to continue to adapt. As far as the structures are concerned, there is a NATO command structure which is the static structure, dealing with the day-to-day operations. The number of headquarters were reduced from something like 90 down to something like 20 in the last review, but we still believe, as the Secretary of State has said, that there are too many headquarters. They still have too much of a static role; they consume a large number of resources - not just financial resources but the scarce manpower resources; and we need to look at whether, given the way in which NATO is evolving, and given the different tasks to be undertaken, that kind of static structure is still the best answer for NATO's needs. Can we reduce it and streamline it and, if so, take account of the legitimate interests of member countries having NATO representation on their soil? The second and other side of that equation is how we can build up NATO's deployable capability. It needs more deployable capability, not just for out-of-area operations, but also to discharge its Article 5 collective security guarantee. The Washington summit emphasised that Article 5 needs to be handled through deployable capability and not static forces. As far as the control element is concerned, NATO is looking at what it calls high readiness force headquarters of which there will be about six, designed to provide headquarters that can be deployed rapidly overseas or wherever in the NATO area to deal with a particular task. At the forefront of those, in terms of UK leadership and modern national defence co-operation, is the ARRC - the rapid reaction corps - of which we are the framework nation. It remains NATO's only rapidly deployable headquarters and it is the first of the candidate high readiness deployable headquarters to pass the standards of full operational capability. Again, that is an example of where we are setting the benchmark.
(Mr Hoon) All countries have special forces. We certainly have always recognised that publicly. What we do not recognise is how they are deployed and where they are deployed.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is to misunderstand the way in which special forces contribute to military operations. Clearly special forces add a particular contribution to operations and they are part of the equipment, if you like, that a force commander and a force generator would call upon.
(Mr Hoon) I think you will find that most nations have forces that they call special forces and we would certainly want to see them available for NATO-led operations.
Mercer: Well done, Jim.
(Mr Hoon) I am sure that the process of allocation is more sophisticated than that.
(Mr Ehrman) Of course, what the Secretary of State says is true.
Chairman: He has described it exactly as it is.
(Mr Hoon) I do not want to reach conclusions before the review has begun, but certainly those are factors that we would want to take into account.
(Mr Hoon) I think those are some of the decisions that we shall have to reach as we conduct the review.
(Mr Hoon) That is part of the justification for having the review. We have to answer that question. It is a difficult exam question. Clearly, if there are that many new members, we shall have to integrate those new members into the structures and find the most effective way of doing that. It may be that that will be on a different basis from the way in which it has worked in the past.
(Mr Hoon) I do not think that I can give you an exact role. In 1999, in the Washington summit, NATO set out the fact that NATO had a responsibility to deal with terrorism. It was recognised then as a growing international challenge and threat to military forces. The events of 11 September demonstrate the wisdom of preparing for that. NATO has had a number of different roles since 11 September. The declaration of Article 5 was an enormously significant event. The deployment of AWACS was hugely welcomed by the United States because that released a vital capability for forward operations, as was the use of the naval force for reconnaissance purposes. I think Brian gave you the answer earlier. The real contribution that NATO has made, which is why it is difficult to be precise, is in establishing common standards, interoperability, ensuring that when allies forces deploy, they deploy and are able to work effectively alongside each other. That standardisation is something that is absolutely central to the way in which NATO operates and will continue to be.
(Mr Hoon) The most important point is to have available the expertise that allows us, if a military response is appropriate, to be able to deal with that threat at source. That, in effect, is what we are doing in Afghanistan.
(Mr Hoon) In terms of any kind of military capability there is always a debate as to how that is best provided, whether centrally - having in effect what amounts to a standing force to which countries subscribe financially - or whether it is better to have forces that each country generates for itself, but those forces are subject to the kind of standardisation that is the hallmark of NATO and they become interoperable as a result of satisfying common standards. There are difficult judgments to be made. If you ask me as Secretary of State for the United Kingdom where my preference would lie, by and large it would lie in each nation subscribing capabilities because I think that that is easier to explain and more readily understood by the people who put us here because ultimately it is their taxes that pay for it. They would want to see some benefit for the United Kingdom of having those forces. Equally, I recognise in an increasingly interdependent world that those forces have to be able to work alongside forces of our allies. That is something that the United Kingdom has strongly supported over a very long time and will continue to support into the future. Indeed, on previous occasions I have described that to the committee. Part of my ambition is to see ways in which our forces are much better integrated with the forces of other countries because that allows them to be deployed even more rapidly, particularly as, in your example, we are talking about relatively scarce capabilities that we need to continue to be able to develop.
(Mr Hoon) Both.
(Mr Hoon) It applies to dealing with the threat from wherever it arises.
(Mr Hoon) You are trying hard to work the phrase "missile defence" into what you have said. As you will be aware, there is a range of means of defending against weapons of mass destruction. It is vitally important that NATO looks at those means of developing those defensive techniques. Missile defence is one of them which the United States is pursuing vigorously.
(Mr Hoon) That is not to say that that helps you at all in the direction in which we want to go. I repeat that the United States has made no request of the United Kingdom for specific assistance in developing its specific missile defence capability.
(Mr Hoon) Again, you are inviting me to answer a question on which NATO has yet to start work. That is perhaps overstating the case a little, because obviously already we seek to develop defences against weapons of mass destruction, but there is a range of potential options available to us and that is why specifically we are looking to agreement at Prague for furthering that effort.
(Mr Hoon) If you are patient and wait for the outcome of Prague, I may be in a better position to give you those answers.
(Mr Hoon) I am sorry. I am going to put those proposals to our NATO allies so I am not going to announce them today.
(Mr Hoon) Because those proposals are not yet there.
Chairman: I think we shall move on.
(Mr Hoon) Let me make it clear, Mr Chairman. I am sorry that Mr Howarth chooses to make his comments in the way that he does. The Ministry of Defence will certainly inform the House of Commons, at the appropriate stage, but it is not appropriate, nor has it been appropriate for any government, for those kinds of suggestions to be made long before they have been prepared and submitted to our allies. It would be totally inappropriate. If Mr Howarth gives half a second of thought to the matter, I am sure that he will agree with that.
Chairman: Let us move on. We have half an hour left.
(Mr Hoon) There are certainly some emerging ideas. They have to be set out in detail. They are ideas of improving not only Europe's ability, but NATO's ability to deploy collectively a strike force more quickly than is the case at present and we strongly support that. That has been the thrust of defence reform in the United Kingdom since the Strategic Defence Review in July 1998. It is the thrust of the work that we have commissioned in the Ministry of Defence since 11 September. We shall be reporting to Parliament in due course. It is about NATO being able to respond effectively and quickly to the kinds of threats that exist in the world. We strongly support that and we strongly support the alliance developing those sorts of capabilities.
(Mr Hoon) Perhaps you did not listen to my answer. It is important that NATO develops those capabilities and those capabilities are wholly consistent with the kinds of reforms that the United Kingdom and indeed other NATO nations have been engaging in since the end of the Cold War. Some of those reforms have gone more quickly in some countries than elsewhere, but clearly our ambition is to ensure that each nation reforms in that direction. Everyone agrees that rapidly deployable forces are where we need to go in a military sense. I hope that what I have said to the committee today about the kinds of reforms that we want NATO to engage in are wholly consistent with that. It is about being able to deliver a military force quickly to wherever it is needed.
(Mr Hoon) Strongly in favour.
(Mr Hoon) Can I try again? I have said that I am in favour of NATO developing those capabilities.
(Mr Hoon) I said that it was less quick than in some countries.
(Mr Hoon) That is a fair question. Implicit in your question is the suggestion that somehow these initiatives have failed. I would not accept that. The Helsinki Headline Goal Catalogue process, for example, is already delivering improved capabilities and I am confident that it will continue to do so. The defence capabilities initiative of NATO has had some significant successes, but while I recognise what I say, more still has to be done. We either reinvigorate the existing process or we more narrowly focus our targets for the future. There are successes and capabilities in Europe that have improved, but it is a moving target and we have to maintain the pressure. That is why we strongly support the emphasis on capabilities. As I indicated earlier, it is Europe that has to improve.
(Mr Hoon) There are a number of aspects to it. I gave the example earlier of perhaps a smaller country, historically keen to provide, say, an infantry battalion that generally speaking is readily available from any number of other countries. That is a practical problem that I had to deal with during the vacation last Christmas when we were preparing for ISAF to go to Afghanistan. Any number of infantry battalions were available, but not so readily available were some of the specialist functions that we required. Therefore, we can discuss with aspiring nations - it applies equally to established members of NATO - the development of niche capabilities, particularly where those capabilities are in short supply, even among the largest military nations. Even the United States will recognise that there are areas of its military capability where it would like to have more capability. If an ally is capable of supplying a particular capability at short notice that can be rapidly deployed and sustained, that will be welcomed as a contribution to a military deployment. In that sense it will give a smaller country an edge, a capability that will allow it to sit at the table, as I said earlier. At the other end of the spectrum - there is a whole range in-between - there are those high-technology capabilities that are increasingly expensive and require research and development in the first place that a number of countries working together may seek to develop, whereas individually they would not be capable of doing so financially. Therefore, that is a way in which countries may want to pool their resources, as we are doing already with strategic airlift, in order to make available a capability that was not otherwise readily available to them. Between those two extremes is a whole range of different kinds of co-operations that are happening already and that I envisage will happen more in the future.
(Mr Hoon) That is absolutely right. If you asked that question of the United States, I believe that they would be the first to recognise that the United States has an enormous range of military capabilities and is committed to operations right around the world, but undoubtedly it welcomed, and continues to welcome, the contribution that allies can make in Afghanistan, with the particular requirements of that deployment and elsewhere. It follows what we have been discussing all morning, that in an increasingly uncertain world, the chances are that you will not make just one deployment and may have to face simultaneous deployments of forces in different parts of the world, as we do at the present time. In those circumstances, what is initially a scarce supply will come under real pressure. The more countries that can develop some of those important niche capabilities the better things will be.
(Mr Hoon) I strongly agree with that. Ideally, we would like to see countries spend more, but equally we would like to see them spend better. That means looking at lists of capabilities, at what we need to develop and agreeing how that should be done. Some time ago my Dutch counterpart said publicly that in his view future Dutch defence spending would address the shortfalls identified in the Helsinki Headline Goal Catalogue. That would be his priority. Obviously, we have to maintain the pressure in terms of encouraging other countries to spend more on defence and we must encourage them to spend it more effectively.
(Mr Hoon) Britain has been increasing its defence expenditure in recent years, after a long period in which defence expenditure was seriously reduced. I hope to see that trend continue.
Chairman: That is a statement! We had some good preparation for your session as we went to Russia last week.
(Mr Hoon) I think you have set out clearly the dilemma that has faced governments over a long period of time. I am just about old enough to remember the debate about the TSR2. I am not sure that at the time I knew what the TSR2 was, but I remember that being debated as you have set out: whether we should invest significant sums of money on developing capability for ourselves or whether we should buy American aircraft off the shelf. That is still an issue today and it will continue to be an issue. We have to make judgements. If all the research and development produced equipment that worked first time and on time, it would be much easier to deal with. As you fairly set out, research and development does not always produce results on time, and sometimes research and development will undoubtedly fail and cost the taxpayers a great deal of money. I suspect that this committee will be among the first to criticise any government that spends large amounts of taxpayers' money and fails to produce capabilities. It is always tempting to buy proven equipment off the shelf. Given the sophistication of Britain's equipment and armed forces, the likelihood is that most of that equipment bought off the shelf will come from the United States. They are devoting the necessary research and development to providing those capabilities and they are prepared to accept the cost of failure. That remains a dilemma for the United Kingdom. We shall continue to make our judgments as we think appropriate. There will be times when we develop equipment ourselves. The A400M developed in conjunction with our allies and the meteor missile for the Eurofighter are examples where we are engaging in some leading-edge technology along with our European partners. Equally, there will be other cases where we judge that it is appropriate to buy off the shelf generally because of the pressing need to have the equipment in service in order to participate in appropriate deployment. There is no easy answer to your question. The only comfort I can draw is that it has affected every defence minister in our history. I suspect that at one stage blunderbusses were probably cheaper on the Continent than they were to manufacture in the United Kingdom.
(Mr Hoon) I am sure that you could use your influence in that direction just as much as I can.
(Mr Hoon) So do I!
(Mr Hoon) We have entered into arguably what may be the most expensive defence project in history, which is JSF. It is interesting and I hope consistent with what we have been discussing already, that the United States was looking for a partnership with the United Kingdom in developing a sophisticated aircraft. I am delighted that we are doing that.
(Mr Hoon) That is a disgraceful suggestion. Companies based in the United Kingdom already supply vital components for the F-16s, for example. I do not accept that at all. This is the way in which the defence industry is developing. We have particular niche specialities that the United Kingdom specialises in and they are increasingly in demand around the world. Obviously, in the United States there is more likely to be an A to Z of industrial capabilities, but it misses out some important letters on the way and other countries will have the opportunity to fill those gaps. That appears to be the way in which defence industries are developing around the world. Clearly, there is a great deal of industrial capabilities in the United States, but that does not say that it is exclusive. The JSF is a very good example of the way in which the US is looking for partnerships in the development of those kinds of leading-edge technologies.
(Mr Hoon) In the short term, my judgment, having sat through some not tremendously exciting permanent joint council meetings, is whether we can engage in a dialogue with Russia as a sovereign nation. The real problem with the GAC was that essentially it was a meeting between Russia and NATO. Both sides, if that is the right description - it should not be but sometimes it felt like that - simply set out their positions and in a way Russia saw itself as the inheritor of the mantle of the Soviet Union and, therefore, engaged in a dialogue with NATO. What is significant about the way in which NATO functions at NATO council meetings is that sovereign nations sit around the table - I do not know whether I shall get into trouble for saying this - and whether it is Luxembourg or the United States, they set out their views. Ministers representing democratic societies are able to do that. What is important about the way in which the NATO Russian Council works, and my assessment of whether it is successful, is whether we have that kind of discussion around the table with 20, because I believe that that way of exchanging ideas is enormously important. Certainly in my immediate counterpart I see no difficulty about that. The Russian defence minister is an extremely sophisticated supporter of reform and has enormous influence in the way in which Russia is developing. Thereafter, you would want to see, as I would, progress on the specific issues that we have identified as being subjects for discussion by the 20. After that, the further stage of defining success will be whether we are capable of adding to that list. After a period of discussion around a table of 20 we may say that there are new subjects that we now feel capable of adding to our agenda.
(Mr Hoon) Am I to receive points for that.
(Mr Hoon) I am a little surprised that you find it surprising that in a democratic nation there is a range of views. I dare say that if I tried I could find places in the Ministry of Defence where there is still some Cold War mentality lurking. That is what happens in democratic societies. There is a range of views and there are tensions. It would be disappointing if you went to a country and met only one view. That would mean to me that the country was not very democratic. You need to recognise that Russia has changed significantly and that there is a range of opinions as there is in London and Washington. That must mean that Russia is making fairly significant progress.
(Mr Hoon) I think that is why meeting the 20 is such a significant development. It means that Russia is sitting around the table with 19 other sovereign nations and exchanging views and ideas about vitally important subjects that affect our security for the future. This is a process. Just because the Soviet Union came to an end does not mean that everyone in the Russian federation suddenly woke up and decided that every aspect of the Cold War mentality was driven out. I suspect, as I say, that lurking in the Ministry of Defence there are a few Cold War attitudes. There are certainly a few in Parliament.
(Mr Hoon) I think those implied criticisms would have been fair before the agreement to establish the NATO-Russia Council. Had we failed to do that - and Tony Blair was amongst the leading advocates of creating the Council - and had there been NATO nations who were implacably opposed to it and would not accept its creation, then there might have been some substance in what you are saying. However, at the point at which this is just getting under way and we are just beginning this kind of dialogue with Russia, I think it is a little unfair to be quite so pessimistic. I accept that you are setting out a strain of thinking that is around here and in Washington and in Moscow, but in fact the Russians have agreed to participate in the NATO-Russia Council, and enthusiastically. At the first meeting that I attended at 20 every single nation spoke in a way to demonstrate how keen they were on it being a success. I think you simply have to give us some time to establish that new institution and make it work and subject it to the kinds of tests that I have set out.
Chairman: I hope your perhaps pessimistic assumption or aspiration is realised.
(Mr Hoon) It does not formally exist.
(Mr Hoon) I think the question has actually been answered already. There are a range of contacts that take place, and from time to time those contacts will certainly include Russia. The Russian Defence Minister has visited here relatively recently. I am looking forward to visiting him very, very soon.
(Mr Hoon) So I understand as well, yes. I think that in engaging in this process of reform, one of the really serious changes that has taken place in recent times is the opportunity of picking up the telephone and discussing issues of mutual concern with the Russian Defence Minister. It would have been impossible to contemplate doing that not so very long ago. I just want to give you a sense of the way in which this works. There are constant contacts amongst allies in a variety of different formats, sometimes in periods of difficulty one following rapidly on the other, because that is the way that modern society works. With regard to the idea that suddenly we wait for a formal meeting with a certain number of people around the table, before trying to address a problem or a crisis, it just does not work like that.
(Mr Hoon) I strongly agree with that. That is why I said, in answer to Kevan's question originally, that the first test for me as to the definition of success is whether there is a sense around the table that we are having an effective dialogue and that there is a real discussion going on, as opposed to simply reading out position papers - which I assure you is not the prerequisite either of Russia, there are many countries who turn up to meetings and read out a very carefully prepared statement.
(Mr Hoon) No, that was an exciting one!
(Mr Hoon) I am sure you are not intending to be defensive and conservative in your question, but I do not think it is about reassurance. I think it is actually getting out of these meetings of 20 real improvements in security. It is about ensuring that we co-operate together on terrorism, on crisis management. It is actually getting real commitment from Russia and from NATO allies that they will work together. One of the significant changes brought about by September 11 is a much greater recognition than before that we have common interests with Russia in tackling some of these issues, and moreover are prepared to make the means available to achieve that. So it is much more than just reassuring people. As far as Ukraine specifically is concerned, then obviously there are implications for Ukraine. I think you have seen some of those inherent in recent announcements. The Ukraine has announced an ambition ultimately to be a member of NATO. I think there is a significant amount of work that would have to be completed before that could happen. Nevertheless, it is an indication of the direction in which Ukraine wishes to go, certainly entirely consistently with what I have said already in terms of defence reform, reform generally in the Ukraine. If they wish to pursue that path, we would strongly support that.
(Mr Hoon) Certainly I think we also have to engage with Ukraine in the kind of dialogue that I am just describing, but given that in a sense Ukraine has announced that its policy is ultimately to want to be a member of NATO, then we will be engaging in that process in any event, because there will be the kind of discussions, the kind of processes that we have discussed earlier in relation to NATO aspirants, as far as the Ukraine is concerned.
(Mr Hawtin) I would simply add as an illustration to your point, Chairman, that the NATO-Ukraine Council is actually meeting in Ukraine Kiev on 9 July, at ambassadorial level, to take forward discussions on what their recent declaration means and how it should be pursued.
Chairman: Now the last question. Mr Howarth.
(Mr Hoon) Immunity is not quite the right word. We have signed up to an international agreement establishing an international court. What I am absolutely satisfied about is that there are appropriate procedures for ensuring that any member of Britain's armed forces who was accused of any crime relevant to the ICC would have the opportunity of a proper and fair trial, and primarily that that proper and fair trial would be conducted in the United Kingdom.
Mr Howarth: The Americans, of course, take a very different view.
Chairman: Hang on, we will not stray too far here.
Mr Jones: I do not see what this has got to do with this.
Chairman: Hang on, Kevan, we are just about to conclude.
(Mr Hoon) Let me make it clear, we strongly support the idea of an International Criminal Court, have done so and have negotiated appropriate protection for our forces against malicious or unjustified allegations against them. I have looked very carefully at those protections and believe that they provide the proper standard for British forces. The United States has taken a different view in relation to what is an international agreement. That does not actually cause friction or irritation between us. It is actually part of the grown-up world in which we operate that from time to time we do disagree, and I do not think that should be terribly surprising, but it is not causing any difficulty in our bilateral relationship with the United States. Certainly there does need to be a resolution of the mandate for forces in Bosnia, but the mandate has been extended until June 30th, and I am confident that there will be an appropriate resolution.
Chairman: Thank you very much. Our mandate has expired a little early. We shall let you go for lunch and to prepare for your fights with the Treasury on how much your budget is going to be. Thank you very much.